It is with great sadness that I am writing these few words.
On the 1st of May this year a Tourist Guide has been killed in Pendjari National Park and two tourists were abducted. Two weeks later the French tourists were freed by the French military in Burkina, as well as an American and a South-Korean woman… two soldiers lost their lives in the assault.
This tragedy has brought despair over Benin. French’s Diplomacy has now classified the entire border with Burkina, and the entire National Park under a red zone. This will undoubtedly have –and already has- devastating impact on the tourism in the region on short terms, and therefore it has already biased the project to build an ecolodge.
After deep reflexion, I believe it would be more than unwise to keep on going, it’d be unconscious. The main flux of tourism in the region was drained by Pendjari Park. To summarise the situation, one could say that it would be like building a lodge knowing it would remain almost empty at start. To counter the situation without abandoning the entire project it will stay on pause for a while, to leave Benin a chance to address the security issues on its soil and the International Community (a chance) to understand the consequences for the local of categorising a whole region as a “no go zone”.
Concretely it means that once the lease is signed (25 years) and administrative work done, I will put the company on pause to see if the regional climate comes back to normal. This would allow me to do something else in the meantime.
That being said, a personal note must be added. This past month has been difficult, I must admit, but I try to, somehow, make the best of it. When I arrived, it took me some time to get myself around the administration, to know how relations work, how to get information. Procedures I thought would take days happened to take months in some cases which made every small achievement feel like small successes; create the company, find the location where the ecolodge should be built, do the topographic survey, obtain the aggregation for it. The silver line of having to temporarily stop the project is that, if I ever can come back to it, I will definitely feel more ready and experienced to make it a success. Also, the ideology, the people I met, the showing of support and so many other things allow me to still find determination in spite of sadness.
Tagayè is the name of the village where the ecolodge and its philosophy should have come out of the ground. Beside a prominent tar road you can see a school with its mango trees, sand and children playing during breaks. Never too far, Alphonse is the owner of a magnificent “tata”, where you can sleep and feel the deepness of the bush, see kids grounding yam at sunset or drink a beer listening to stories, all more incomprehensible than the other for our pale and sterile minds. If you find Alphonse, you find Gaston. He has smile anchored in his eyes and can bring you see old attics which are located by caves where their ancestors used to hide from inquisitors, locals or foreigners. History that can feel old – sometimes and for some of us – while being alive here. Gaston shows you these places as a brother, a human. His only requests are curiosity and respect. The unsaid about traditions are made to remain unsaid, the sacred too. Only his smile is a glimpse in the meaning of sincerity.
Maybe the project will see light in Tagayè one day, “if god is willing” and as they say here “good things take time”.
I will let you know about any changes of the status quo in preparation, and if you have any questions, I am here to answer them.